Britons ring in the New Year with muted celebrations as Omicron uncertainty casts shadow over early 2022

The UK has rung in 2022 with muted celebrations, with revellers in parts of the country free to celebrate while others were instructed to stay home.

In England, where New Year’s Eve revellers were not made subject to fresh restrictions despite a surge in Omicron infections, people packed out bars, pubs and nightclubs to see in the new year.

In London, a “secret” display featuring fireworks, drones and lights across the city’s landmarks rang in the New Year – though officials had threatened to cancel it at the last minute after plans leaked out in advance.

People, some wearing masks, in Piccadilly Circus, as they gather to celebrate New Year’s Eve (Photo: Alberto Pezzali/AP)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who had officially cancelled the capital’s fireworks display and blocked off Trafalgar Square to revellers, appealed for people to stay home, claiming that the display would “not be visible from the ground” and that “the only way to view the display in full” was to watch on TV.

People gather on the south bank of river Thames to celebrate New Year’s Eve (Photo: Alberto Pezzali/AP)

The special broadcast featured Hamilton actor Giles Terera, who read a poem penned by Thomas Roberts marking the events of the year before the high-tech display.

The celebration was preceded by a BBC special featuring Years & Years, Kylie Minogue and the Pet Shop Boys – with viewers praising the prominence of LGBT+ performers in the line-up.

Singer Olly Alexander, who introduced the fireworks by referencing “ladies and gentlemen and non-binary folk”, tweeted ahead of the show: “this wouldn’t have happened without your support, i still feel like the weird gay kid sometimes… like how did all this happen!? thank you thank you i am so so grateful.”

While dozens of towns and cities across England cancelled official New Year’s Eve events, people were free to flock to bars and clubs in search of a midnight celebration.

Celebrations were significantly quieter in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have all imposed differing rules and regulations aiming to avert large-scale mixing.

The Scottish government urged people to see out Hogmanay at home, with a series of events cancelled after a limit of 100 people was imposed for indoor gatherings, and 500 for outdoor celebrations.

A near-deserted Princes Street in Edinburgh is pictured as the time passes midnight, shown on the Balmoral Hotel clock early on 1 January, 2022 in Edinburgh (Photo: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty)

Nicola Sturgeon said restrictions meant that this was “not the Hogmanay we all wanted and hoped for”.

She said: “The Omicron variant is a very significant threat. It means that, at the moment, we need above all to keep each other safe.

“We all need to stay at home, far more than we would want to at this time of year. And we have asked that you minimise new year socialising as much as you can.

“So this is not the Hogmanay we all wanted and hoped for. But I believe that we can still look ahead to 2022 with optimism.”

A closed Queens Vault pub on 31 December, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales (Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty)

In his own New Year’s Eve message, Mr Johnson made no attempt to urge people to stay home or constrain their behaviour, instead claiming that the Government has “met our target” to offer all over-18s a booster by the end of the year.

However, the Government’s own data shows that around 20 million over-18s, more than a third of the UK’s adult population, are yet to receive a booster dose.

To date, only 33.9 million third or booster doses have been given across the UK, of the around 53 million people aged 18 or over.

How the rest of the world celebrated

New Zealand and Australia were among the first nations to welcome 2022 with light shows and fireworks illuminating night skies as the world entered another year in the shadow of coronavirus.

A light show from the Skytower and harbour bridge during Auckland New Year’s Eve celebrations (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty)

Crowds gathered for the first time since August at the Sky Tower and Harbour Bridge in Auckland, New Zealand, after a last-minute easing of restrictions in the city on the country’s north island.

Over in Sydney, revellers were treated to a double helping of fireworks – one at 9pm local time and another as the clock ticked past midnight.

Fireworks light up the sky over the Sydney Harbour Bridge during New Year’s Eve celebrations (Photo: Mark Evans/Getty)

Spectacular pyrotechnics displays took place against the backdrop of the harbour and Sydney Opera House.

Tonga, Fiji and Kiribati were among the first islands in the Pacific to ring in the new year.

6,500 candles are lit at a ceremony to wish for overcoming the pandemic and good luck in the upcoming New Year at Hasedera Buddhist temple in Kamakura, south of Tokyo, Japan, (Photo: KIM KYUNG-HOON/Reuters)

As in London, New Year’s Eve celebrations in Paris and New York have been scaled back for a second year in a row as part of Covid restrictions.

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